Analysis of Actifio’s Results in Gartner’s Critical Capabilities of Data Center Backup and Recovery

The definition of backup is always changing. Backed up files or databases were typically put into some type of container, such as tar. When backups started being stored on disk, the tradition of putting backed up data into a container continued – if for no other reason than inertia. Many people feel part of what constituted a backup was this format change. However, many do not agree, including Storage Switzerland and Gartner.

For example, Gartner’s recent reports entitled Critical Capabilities for Data Center Backup and Recovery Solutions and Magic Quadrant for Data Center Backup and Recovery Solutions include products that store copies in their native format. Storage Switzerland believes one of the reasons that people’s understanding of backup changed is that people use backups – or simply copies of their data – differently than they used to. Customers are now starting to use copies of their data for multiple purposes, including development and testing, as well as data analytics and other data monetization projects.

The ranking for each broad use case is based on a weighted average across 10 Critical Capabilities, and is a comparative analysis of the top 11 Data Center Backup and Recovery Solutions. This highlights which products best fit within the three most common IT use case environment.

How Actifio Fared in Gartner’s Critical Capabilities

If you average the scores across the three use cases, Actifio scores the highest overall average out of the 11 backup technology vendors assessed in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant and Critical Capabilities. They received an average score of 3.9 out of 5, compared with their closest competitor that received an average of 3.79. When you consider that they are a completely new way to protect data, that feat is even more impressive. Actifio is the only Copy Data Management (CDM) product listed in the report, (Actifio defines it as Enterprise Data as a Service (EDaaS)). The rest of the products are more traditional “backup and restore” type products – although some of them do support modern ideas like instant recovery.

Fully Virtualized Environments

Looking at the fully virtualized use case, Actifio received a score of 4.11, which was .10 higher than their closest competitor Rubrik. The reason for this score is that Actifio was ranked number one in the protection of on-premises virtual machines and user self-service. Gartner liked Actifio’s incremental forever approach that offers low-impact backups. Even more important was how scalable Gartner felt Actifio’s instant recovery feature was. Many backup products are starting to offer an instant recovery feature, but some of them are only to handle restoring a virtual machine or two – not an entire data center.

Actifio’s scale out system is able to allow many virtual machines to run at once. As to the user self-service feature, Gartner felt that Actifio’s support went beyond just allowing users to recovery their own data. Being a CDM product, Actifio enables the use of the “backups” for other purposes, as DevOps workflows and analytics. Finally, Actifio ranked third in storage and network efficiency due to their incremental forever capture. Other products might have scored higher here because they do the deduplication on the front end before sending the data to the client. Actifio believes that this process is best performed on the back end, and that block level incremental backups are the easiest way to reduce network load without placing an undue burden on the client.

Balanced Physical and Virtual Environments

When looking at balanced physical and virtual environments, Actifio almost tied with NetBackup for first place, being only .01 behind Veritas. The scored first in integration with on-premises databases and applications. This is probably due to its extensive work to support non-traditional databases such as MySQL and Postgress. Many companies require customers to script backups for such databases. Of course, they also integrate (with block-level incremental backups) with the more traditional applications as well. Like in the previous category, they scored first in their support for on-premises VMs, but Gartner only weighted that at 8% in this category, since it focuses on mixed environments. Actifio scored third in protecting on-premises physical servers. It’s surprising that a company as young as Actifio supports Windows, Linux, traditional Unix platforms (e.g. Solaris, HP-UX, AIX), and iSeries. Very few traditional products even have this breadth of coverage.

Gartner explained how Actifio creates a single golden copy that is the basis for the company’s copy data management system. All “backups” after that are block level incremental forever. Gartner highlighted fast recovery speed regardless of the amount of data being protected, but also mentioned how Actifio stores data enables newer use cases, such as analytics and DevOps. Gartner also highlighted Actifio’s new OnVault feature that allows historical data to be stored in object storage for analytics and other primary storage use cases.

Public Cloud Environments

Finally, Actifio came in second behind Commvault in the support for Public Cloud environments. The big reason they did well here was their integration with Public IaaS storage, which Gartner rated at 35%. Gartner did mention that Actifio does not yet have a way to protect SaaS-based workloads or manage cloud-native snapshots. Actifio is able to store their incremental copies in the cloud and provides the unique ability to provision full read/write enabled copies of data directly from cloud-based (or local) object storage. They also support the traditional use case of automatically migrate older backups to the cloud. They again ranked third in storage and network efficiency, and # in user self-service – for reasons mentioned earlier.

As mentioned before, Actifio ends up with the best average score across all three workloads. No other vendors scored in the top 3 among all use cases. When you consider Actifio’s age, that’s an even more impressive feat.

Looking at the Gartner Magic Quadrant report, Gartner puts Actifio in the visionaries quadrant, and is seen the farthest to the right in the “completeness of vision” metric. Gartner states that Actifio’s customers praise ease-of-use and customer support, but did mention that some customers said their initial deployments required extra care and effort to properly configure the solution. Based on the companies who are in the leader quadrant, Actifio needs only to increase its market share a little to move in that direction.

What are the next steps an IT Pro needs to take in order to assess what the right backup solution is for your IT environment? We suggest that you start by considering the following questions:

No paper could include all of the questions you should ask a potential backup and recovery vendor, but these might be a good place to start.

  1. How do you backup VMs?
  2. How do you create backups/copies of unstructured data?
  3. How do you interface with my database applications?
  4. What kind of bandwidth will this system require to protect my data?
  5. What are the steps to facilitate a recovery of an application?
  6. Can you run protected images from VMs or databases directly from the protection environment and if so, how many instances can you run simultaneously?
  7. How do I find various versions of a file from multiple backups?
  8. Suppose I backup an entire application. Can I recover just part of it?
  9. How does your application support test and development?
  10. Can I test the efficacy of my backups? If so, can I automate it?
  11. How do you integrate with cloud storage vendors?

StorageSwiss Take

Many customers have moved very far down the path of figuring out how else they could use copies of data. The more they move down that path, the more solutions like Actifio will be helpful to them, and with their 8.0 release Actifio continues to expand their platform with new and advanced capabilities. The fact that Actifio can present a snapshot of any dataset from any point in time for read-only or read-write use allows its solution to easily serve a number of workloads. In addition, the fact they can store older data via object store really facilitates data analytics workloads that expect an object interface. With this level of functionality, the “backup” system that used to get ignored during budget time can easily move front and center into business enablement.

W. Curtis Preston (aka Mr. Backup) is an expert in backup & recovery systems; a space he has been working in since 1993. He has written three books on the subject, Backup & Recovery, Using SANs and NAS, and Unix Backup & Recovery. Mr. Preston is a writer and has spoken at hundreds of seminars and conferences around the world. Preston’s mission is to arm today’s IT managers with truly unbiased information about today’s storage industry and its products.

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